CAT'S EYE; By Margaret Atwood; Doubleday; 446 pages; $18.95

Readers looking for a repeat of Margaret Atwood's fierce futurist allegory "A Handmaid's Tale" will be surprised but not disappointed with her new novel, "Cat's Eye."Indeed, "Cat's Eye" is a 180-degree turn from the nightmare fantasy of "A Handmaid's Tale."

It is an unrelentingly realistic and painstakingly detailed chronicle of childhood and its often painful memories that are carried as traumas into adulthood.

In many respects, "Cat's Eye" is two novels, both woven around the idea of looking back. Its protagonist, 50-year-old artist Elaine Risley, has returned to her childhood home of Toronto for a retrospective showing of her work.

As a child in the 1940s and '50s, the city seemed the embodiment of dull, bourgeois taste and style. It now triggers her own private retrospective of her childhood.

At its center is her ambivalent relationship with Cordelia, her best friend and yet nightmarish enemy from whose projects and judgments she must free herself.

As Elaine moves closer to her show, she also is drawn through her past, and both affirmation and exorcism propel the story forward.

"Cat's Eye" is a powerful, persuasive and exquisitely well-rendered novel. It should lay to rest any doubt that Atwood is not among the few major practitioners of thoughtful fiction.

If there is a flaw in the book it is that it is too detailed, too long. At the same time, it would be hard to give up any of the perfectly realized scenes, even as one urges Atwood to get on with it. - David E. Anderson

THE EDGE; By Dick Francis; Putnam's; 324 pages; $18.95.

Julius Apollo Filmer has a reputation in horse racing circles. It isn't good.

His very presence frightens people. And some of them turn up dead - like the stable boy whose neck was broken.

So when Filmer books passage on Canada's "Great Transcontinental Mystery Race Train," Tor Kelsey, an undercover security man for the British Jockey Club, is sent along to keep an eye on him.

To maintain his cover, Kelsey poses as an actor, playing a role in the mystery that is concocted for the pleasure of the train's upper-class passengers.

Sure enough, bad things begin to happen. One devastating "accident" is narrowly avoided and another appears inevitable. The troubled son of a wealthy horse owner mysteriously commits suicide.

There is never a doubt that Filmer is responsible. But catching him in the act is the problem.

"The Edge" is a departure from the norm for ace mystery writer and former champion British jockey Dick Francis. You know the "whodunit" up front, unlike Francis's two dozen other mystery stories.

In "The Edge," it's the "how he did it" and "how they're gonna get 'im" that fashion another winning cliffhanger. - Allan R. Bruce

FRENCH KISS; By Eric Van Lustbader; Fawcett-Columbine; 501 pages; $19.95.

"French Kiss" has all the elements one expects in a story by best-selling author Eric Van Lustbader: exotic locales, a complex plot full of suspense, and a heavy dose of the martial arts and Asian philosophy.

But this latest novel also includes a look back at the Vietnam war and some of the covert U.S. operations in Cambodia, and that adds a new dimension to his work.

The military forays are far-fetched, but the feelings of American soldiers fighting in an unpopular war, especially their puzzlement over why and how the war is being waged, are right on the money. And the battle scenes have a gritty realism that bring back the horror of Vietnam.

And with each new book, Van Lustbader seems to outdo himself in creating ever more ingenious forms of violence.

The goal in this novel is to possess the Prey Dauw, or Forest of Swords, three mythical weapons that may be the key to gaining control of opium production in the Shan Plateau in Southeast Asia.

With "French Kiss," Van Lustbader has once again written the kind of exotic thriller his fans love. And his treatment of the war sequences and issues push him a notch closer to being considered a serious novelist. - Michael V. Uschan

BEANBALL; By Tom Seaver, with Herb Resnicow; Morrow; 224 pages; $16.95.

As if the pressure of being a newspaper columnist and covering the World Series as a reporter isn't enough, authors Tom Seaver and Herb Resnicow impose on their hero the burden of solving a murder in order to keep out of jail.

Marc Burr might not face murder charges even if he doesn't find the real killer, but the police are hinting heavily about taking some action. The problem is that Lt. Harvey Danzig has found Burr at the scene of a second murder, one where cocaine was mentioned in passing.

The problem with "Beanball" is that Danzig and Burr have been through a lot of this before. The first time was in "Murder at the Super Bowl," when top billing for the authorship went to football player Fran Tarkington.

Still Seaver and Resnicow's writing and plot are acceptable, and there's enough baseball lore between the murder and the unmasking of the killer to satiate even the most hardcore fan. - Sharon Miller